Welcome to the Trail Well Traveled!
Each Friday, in partnership with Montana Wilderness Association we will feature a new western Montana trail and then give you some helpful details and tips to get on your way!
The mosquitoes were “legendary” the last time Craig visited this weekend’s destination near Three Forks. But that was during the summertime – and it was still worth it, he said. So only makes sense this year to try it before the itching commences!
Missouri Headwaters State Park
See where Lewis and Clark camped, visit the confluence of the Missouri and Jefferson Rivers, and go birding in an important bird area.
Roundtrip: 3.5 miles
Total Elevation Gain: 30 feet
Directions: From Missoula, head east on I-90 to Exit #278 at Three Forks. Head north and then turn left at the Headwaters State Park signs onto Trident Road to get you into the park. There, you’ll drive past the campground, past a small butte and then turn right into the second paved parking area on the right.
What to expect: This hike may be nearly flat, yet it offers vistas of multiple mountain ranges, as well as the butte that Meriwether Lewis climbed in order to figure out which of the three rivers confluences of the Missouri River he should follow on the Corps of Discovery’s route west.
From the south end of the parking lot, follow the paved path as it winds uphill to an interpretive pavilion, which illustrates the history of the area. Continue on the blacktop path to the top of the bluff for a view of the confluence of the Gallatin and Missouri Rivers. Across the Gallatin River is Lewis Rock, the bluff that Meriwether Lewis climbed.
Head south along the bluffs. There are multiple paths, but the most scenic is the one that runs along the east edge of the bluff. If you’re lucky, you might spot otters, herons or ducks in the water or pelicans wheeling overhead.
At the south end of the bluffs, the path drops down to the plains. Veer right, following the path as it crosses Trident Road, leading to the official confluence of the Madison and Jefferson Rivers.
Continue south along the footpath as it leads to the campground entrance. Cross Trident Road again to the paved parking area and restroom. A grassy path leads south from the parking lot to the decaying Gallatin City Hotel and another interpretive sign.
The mowed trail continues along the river edge back up to the bluffs. Climb up the asphalt path to the top of the bluff, then continue straight ahead on the trail that follows the lower west side of the bluffs to a “cave” with faint petroglyphs. Near the trailhead are graves of pioneer children who died of diphtheria in the 1870s. Continue to the trailhead and parking area to complete the loop.
Tip: Don’t rely on Google Maps to get you to the park. It’s off by about 25 miles!
Learn more about this trail, file your own trip report and photos, or check out some other great hikes at hikewildmontana.org. And don’t forget to tune in to the Trail 103.3 each Friday at 9:50 am for the next featured trail and your chance to win!
Big thanks to Rangitsch Bros RV for sponsoring the Trail Well Traveled. Proudly serving Missoula for over 56 years, whatever camper best suits your needs Rangitsch Bros has got it!